The untold history of the Gibson Les Paul/SG TV

Gibson Les Paul/SG TV
(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Gibson entered the solidbody electric guitar market in 1952 with the introduction of the Les Paul Model/Goldtop. In 1954, the single-cutaway Gibson Les Paul range was expanded to include the top-of-the-line ‘black beauty’ Custom and the single P-90-pickup Sunburst finish Junior, while the following year saw the introduction of the dual-P-90 Limed Mahogany finish Special.

Although the Junior was aimed at students, before the end of the decade Gibson was advertising the stripped-back, no-frills guitar as “a favorite with students and advanced players”. Indeed, the design has been seen in the hands of many pro guitarists over the years, notably Leslie West, Mick Ralphs, Steve Howe, Keith Urban, Billie Joe Armstrong and Charlie Starr.

Expanding on the student theme, Gibson simultaneously produced ¾-sized Juniors during the 50s, and this shorter 22 ¾-inch scale length sibling solidbody also appeared in ’54 in a light brown/yellow finish. 

It was branded the Les Paul TV, and full 24 ¾-inch scale models began to be advertised the following year. Variously dubbed Natural, Limed Oak, Limed Mahogany and Cream, the Les Paul TV’s finish was all that distinguished it from a Junior. And as per the Junior, the Les Paul TV transitioned from a single-cutaway to a rounded double-cutaway in 1958.

Gibson Les Paul/SG TV

The black ‘dog ear’ P-90 pickup cover stands out against the  vibrant yellow of the ‘Cream’ nitro finish. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

When we think of a Gibson SG (Solid Guitar), it tends to be the thin-bodied, pointed double-cutaway electrics that naturally spring to mind. However, both the Les Paul TV and the dual-pickup Les Paul Special were redesignated as SGs in late 1959 after the models had transitioned from single- to rounded double-cutaway instruments. 

At this point, the ‘Les Paul TV Model’ silkscreen was omitted from the headstock while the Gibson logo was retained. It was showcased in its 1960 catalogue: Gibson said its new “graceful double cutaway” SG TV “emphasizes the latest in modern appearance”.

(It must be noted that at the same time, the rounded double-cutaway Junior remained a Les Paul variant and was available in a Cherry Red finish as standard, while the SG Special came in a choice of either Cherry Red or Limed Mahogany aka Cream.)

Alas, within months it was decided the iconic thin, bevelled body shape with pointed double cutaways would be integrated into the SG TV design, and the short-lived rounded double-cutaway version was superseded by the time the 1961 catalogue was put into print. 

This time around, Gibson described the SG TV as “handsomely modern in design and finish… the thin sculptured, contoured body has a deep double cutaway for easy access to all frets.” 

Although some SG TVs from 1961 retained the Limed Mahogany finish of the rounded double-cutaway guitars – sometimes referred to colloquially as ‘banana yellow’ – by the end of the year, the model had transitioned to an opaque white finish. 

Sitting alongside the Cherry finish Junior (the Les Paul Junior was eventually renamed the SG Junior in 1963), SG TVs were advertised in the Gibson price list as White up until 1968. In 1969, the SG TV disappeared from the Gibson price list. Simultaneously, a new Walnut finish option for the SG Junior appeared.  

The Evolution of the Gibson Les Paul TV/SG TV

  • 1954: Single-cutaway; 22 ¾-inch scale length; maple slab body; pale brown/yellow finish
  • 1955: Regular 24 ¾-inch scale length; maple or mahogany slab body
  • 1957: Pickup moves c. ½-inch forward/away from bridge
  • 1958: Rounded double-cutaway
  • Late 1959: Redesignated SG TV (no model logo)
  • Early 1961: Restyled body with contours and pointed double-cutaway
  • Late 1961: White finish
  • 1965: Vibrola standard
  • 1966: Larger pickguard
  • 1968: Discontinued

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Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.